Donald Townsend lived through the Great Depression and came out a man who valued the things he had. That’s why he stashed things in the secret panel of the floor of his closet, and in the hidden drawer of his wood dresser.
It was in 1949 that the Burbank city employee and card-carrying member of the electricians’ union tossed his wallet in the small dresser panel and left it there — for the rest of his life.
The wallet was Don’s personal filing cabinet. He racked up receipts for a home construction project, all tucked neatly in the billfold. His young son, Dale, was outgrowing his room, so the Townsends were adding to the home they purchased in 1941 for $5,000.
He still had the citation from the Burbank Police Department for a driving infraction at the corner of Burbank and Victory. He fought it in court and lost — they hit him with a $1 fine. Don had that receipt, too.
It’s a mystery to Don’s family how he forgot where he put the wallet, but the family agrees that Don would have blamed his wife for its disappearance.
Don did odd jobs for people around Burbank, often for trade. The Townsend home was a revolving door for furniture, and the dresser with the secret door was sold. It was sold again, and in 1963 a woman purchased the dresser and kept it with her through three marriages and as many locations. She ended up in Whistler, Canada, about 70 miles north of Vancouver, where she lived until last December.
Most of the furniture was left in the house and donated to a thrift store. When they moved the cabinet, workers heard a rattling and found Don Townsend’s wallet, a wrench and a screwdriver in the spare compartment. The items saw the light of day for the first time in 63 years — and six years after Don Townsend’s death.
Store owner Lorna Van Straaten wrote about the discovery on her blog. A Townsend family member came across the posting and obtained the wallet — including the $2.15 in change — then sent it along to Dale in March.
“In those days without the Internet, he kept his wallet full of receipts, documents — it was his life story in this wallet,” Dale said.
In looking through its contents, Dale found a picture of his mother he’d never seen before, plus a photo of himself and his twin sisters. The paper driver’s license contained Don’s thumbprint. A laminated credit card provided Don credit at the Tide Water Associated Oil Company.
“It brought Dad back into my life again. He’d been gone since 2005 and to have him brought back in this way was so awesome,” Dale said.
The thrift shop sold the dresser, but Dale was able to contact its new owners and they agreed to sell it to him. He plans to keep it at his 1850s-era home in Pennsylvania where he lives in the summer.
The wallet is with Dale at his home in Manhattan Beach, but not for long. The wallet and its contents will be on display throughout June at the Burbank Public Library courtesy of Dale’s cousin, Joan Cappocchi. She’s the library’s publicity and program coordinator.
Dale is enjoying telling the story to everyone he knows — he’s already shared it with his whole Christmas card list and was interviewed on the national Canadian radio network CBC.
And now he and his sister, Carolyn, understand one of their father’s habits.
“I said to Carolyn, ‘Remember Dad always put his wallet on the corner cabinet?’ After losing it, he probably did that so he’d never lose it again,” Dale said.